Changing Classrooms Into Knowledge Laboratories

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Present day classroom practices can benefit from the use of new technologies and teaching methodologies. Using inquiry-based learning and knowledge-based techniques in classroom situations, the paper relates the experiments conducted over two semesters at the Singapore Maritime Academy. In the experiments, the lectures were replaced with student activities, which resulted in engagement of students with the content. Constructivist methods were used to develop knowledge-based artefacts, which could be reused and further refined through future classroom processes. Techniques used to capture student activities using software suit CmapTools are also described in detail. [Singapore Polytechnic Journal of Teaching Practice 2006]
  +++ The paper to be published in the Singapore Polytechnic’s Journal of Teaching Practice,2006 1 Changing Classrooms into Knowledge Laboratories… A Possible Scenario Replacing Everyday Lectures? +++   Kalyan Chatterjea Singapore Maritime Academy Abstract Present day classroom practices can benefit from the use of new technologies and teaching methodologies. Using inquiry-based learning and knowledge-based techniques in classroom situations, the paper relates the experiments conducted over two semesters at the Singapore Maritime Academy. In the experiments, the lectures were replaced with student activities, which resulted in engagement of students with the content. Constructivist methods were used to develop knowledge-based artefacts, which could be reused and further refined through future classroom processes. Techniques used to capture student activities using software suit CmapTools are also described in detail. Keywords:  Constructivist learning, CmapTools, concept maps, knowledge laboratory,knowledge building in classrooms. INTRODUCTION A major concern for teachers for descriptive subjects is to engage the learners duringclassroom-based lectures. When the subject content is mathematical, the engagement isprobably easier as after going through with some theories and examples, the learnerscould be asked to apply the techniques to specific problem sets and learners get busywith problem-solving. In the case of a descriptive subject, the scenario in class usuallyends up in a deductive lecture, where the minds of the passive learners could strayeasily past the droning tones of the lecturer and even the colours of the PowerPointslides fail to make much meaning  in absence of any engagement of the learners    with the    content  .The author had this dilemma of selecting a suitable engaging strategy when a subjectwas taught recently in two terms of a semester, where the first term was dealing withship resistance calculations, which was purely mathematical, posing no problems andthe second term dealt with the ship constructional details, which dealt with description,typical subject-specific terminology, drawings and sketches of details of ship structure.The paper describes how an initial inquiry-based learning strategy was selected in thesecond term when the descriptive part was covered. This strategy led to thedevelopment of resources for the topic and later in the following semester, the approachwas changed to a strategy of concept mapping to continue student engagement. Acomputer-based concept mapping program CmapTools from Institute for Human andMachine Cognition (IHMC), USA, was used to capture these classroom processes.  +++ The paper to be published in the Singapore Polytechnic’s Journal of Teaching Practice,2006 2 The details of these student processes in the classroom situations are included in thepaper and it is argued that these constructivist strategies together with computer-mediation with the appropriate tools could generate knowledge systems, which, on onehand, promote learner engagement, thereby improving student learning and on the otherhand may lead to the development of advance organisers  for learning and problem-solving, which could be iterated for refinement during every semester.A detailed description of the use of CmapTools for developing searchableknowledgebase in a subject domain through classroom processes is also included.It is suggested that in similar classroom situations, lectures in the present form, couldperhaps be replaced with these strategies to improve student engagement of content.The classrooms could then be named as knowledge-labs  as each session would refinethe existing knowledge system with cognitive commitment  of the learners.The paper is organised in three sections. Section 1 attempts to define the knowledge  inthe context of learning  . Section 2 describes the learning environments and classroomprocesses, which led to this paper and the Section 3 relates the techniques ofknowledge capture from the classroom processes using CmapTools. SECTION 1 – KNOWLEDGE IN THE CONTEXT OF LEARNING From Wikipedia  :  Knowledge  is information of which someone is aware. Knowledge is also used to  mean  the  confident    understanding of a subject  , potentially with the  ability    to use it for a specific purpose  .   For a learner, the knowledge content to be presented for learning must be suitable to hisor her stage of development. In other words, the learner’s readiness to receive thisknowledge is related to the learner’s stage of intellectual development  (Brainerd, 1978).Additionally, from the point of view of learning and the present emphasis of the need ofconstructivism associated with the act of learning, the knowledge content to be learntshould be an individually constructed experience  (Siemens, 2005).Siemens (2005) also raised the notion of networks  as a representation of knowledgesystem for learning. Networks, he claimed has its inherent simplicity of at least  twoelements (more in a complex domain) of nodes  and a connection  . Nodes could be concepts  in a subject domain and the connection is the relationship  between thesenodes or concepts. Hence, the two nodes represent the subject domain to the learner at this top-level  , and the relationship between the nodes helps in meaning-making  of thisknowledge representation.The discussion above makes the case for visual knowledge representation (Jonassen &Grabowski, 1993, p.433), which could allow the learner to have a visual overview of theknowledge domain. The Figure 1 shows a top-level of knowledge domain consisting of 4nodes and one connector with the meaning-making  connecting phrase.  +++ The paper to be published in the Singapore Polytechnic’s Journal of Teaching Practice,2006 3 Figure 1 – A knowledge representation network in context of learning To represent a real world domain, the number of nodes in the knowledge representationnetwork would need to increase. As number of nodes increases to represent a more realisticview of the subject domain, the learner is faced with a visual representation, which is difficultto grasp. A cencept-map made during the classroom experiment conducted by the author isshown in the Figure 2, which may represent the knowledge domain in more detail and yet itmay not be the right representation of knowledge for learning at the beginner-level. Figure 2 – Somewhat detailed representation but not easy for a learner to grasp quickly Node – 1PhotosynthesisNode – 2Light energyNode – 4Carbon dioxideNode – 3WaterUses  +++ The paper to be published in the Singapore Polytechnic’s Journal of Teaching Practice,2006 4 The key to manage this problem is perhaps to split the domain into smaller manageablelogical segments of knowledge, just suitable for the level of learners and for quick meaning- making  . These knowledge-segments should have logical interconnections between them torepresent the complete domain knowledge. The Figure 3 shows the knowledgerepresentations at split levels and their logical interconnection. Concepts are shown asknowledge nodes and connectors [C] depict the interconnection. The connectors representthe relationships between concepts. Three split levels are shown with their logicalconnectors.This splitting of the domain into levels of knowledge provides the possibility of extending thedepth of the subject in any particular area by creating deeper levels. If we extrapolate thismanner of knowledge representation for learning, it becomes evident that a large body of astructured knowledgebase could contain knowledge levels necessary for the beginner’s level,advanced level and even at practitioners’ level by increasing the level depths. Then, abeginners’ course could include only, say, the first 5 levels. An advance learners’ coursecould cover these first five levels quickly as refresher and then cover in detail the next fivelevels, which are more appropriate to the advanced learners. Similarly, if the knowledgenodes have been captured for the practitioners’ level, similar strategies could be practiced.As an example, in Singapore Polytechnic, this approach could be taken for a particularsubject at Diploma level, followed it up at the Advanced Diploma and extend it further to aSpecialist Diploma – all using the same structured knowledgebase. Figure 3 Subject domain split into manageable knowledge levels for easy learning
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